ThinkFest Recap: Ajay Raju on Philly’s Once and Future Greatness

"It's in our DNA — it's our birthright to be dominant."

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Ajay Raju, the co-chairman and CEO of Dilworth Paxson — as well as a community activist who serves on numerous boards — was just on the ThinkFest Main Stage, talking with Philly Mag editor Tom McGrath on how to make Philly a world-class city.

Three takeaways:

• ON THE GREATNESS OF PHILADELPHIA: “That City Hall, if it was located in Paris there would be a 13-block line to see it. Here, we walk past it, we don’t notice it.”

The reason Philadelphians don’t see the city’s greatness, he said, is because it sits side-by-side with despair” Many residents have no broadband service, Raju said, and America’s poorest congressional district is located here. “We have a third-world country in Philadelphia,” he said, and later added: “You have to dig out of this by thinking big.”

• ON PHILADELPHIA RECLAIMING ITS GREATNESS: “It’s in our DNA, it’s our birthright to be dominant. The code for the modern world was written here.”

He added: “I’m convinced in the next 50 years, we’ll reclaim that dominance again.”

• ON HIS GERMINATION SOCIETY TO GROW PHILLY BORN-AND-BRED LEADERSHIP: “Imagine a kid, he’s in high school … and he can throw a football 80 yards or greater with pinpoint accuracy. WE all know it doesn’t matter where the kid comes from, every college scout in the country will know who he is. Every NFL scout will know who he is. …. The only thing that limits that kid’s potential is if he peaks too early, injury, or (limits) his investment.” That same support system, he said, doesn’t exist for kids who show leadership potential in other fields.

Participants will be drawn from 10 Philadelphia schools, plus five “wild card” nominees: After they’re selected, the society will act as a “rich uncle” to help the kids make the right connections, no matter their previous socioeconomic background. The only requirement? They eventually stay in Philadelphia to make their careers.”Once they’re in … he’s in for life,” he said. “We’ll subsidize and ensure that seed of potential becomes creative in Philadelphia.”

• BONUS TAKEAWAY ON HOW HE LEARNED TO SPEAK ENGLISH AS A CHILD WHO IMMIGRATED FROM INDIA AT AGE 14: “I listened religiously to Peter Jennings. He would say a sentence, I would repeat it.”

Check out all of our coverage from ThinkFest 2014.